Prepare safe Thanksgiving foods

Elizabeth S. Reames  |  11/13/2008 8:35:50 PM

Holiday News You Can Use Distributed 11/13/08

The color of cooked poultry is not always a sure sign of its safety. Turkey can remain pink even after cooking to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees, according to LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames. The meat of smoked turkey is always pink.

“A food thermometer is the only way to make sure that turkey has reached a high enough temperature to destroy harmful bacteria,” Reames said. Insert the food thermometer in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and thickest part of the breast.

For turkey breasts, check the thickest part of the breast. If using an oven cooking bag, follow the manufacturer's guidelines on the package. A turkey will cook faster in an oven bag with less cleanup afterwards. A thermometer can be inserted through a hole in the oven bag so you can tell when your turkey is safely done.

For optimum safety, cook stuffing separately from the turkey. Cook it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. If you choose to stuff a turkey, be sure to use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey and the center of the stuffing. If the center of the stuffing has not reached 165 degrees, continue cooking the turkey until it does. Cooking stuffing separately will help prevent overcooking your turkey.

Be sure to get the turkey to a safe position on the stovetop or in the oven to prevent being burned from the hot cooking pan or juices.

To make sure your Thanksgiving feast is delicious and safe, Reames offers these additional food safety guidelines:

– If you choose to buy a frozen bird, you may do so at any time, but make sure you have adequate storage space in your freezer. If you buy a fresh turkey, be sure you purchase it only one or two days before cooking. Do not buy a stuffed fresh turkey.

– Harmful bacteria that may have been present prior to freezing a turkey can begin to grow again unless proper thawing methods are used. Three safe ways to thaw a turkey or other food are in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or below, in cold water and in the microwave. When thawing in the refrigerator, allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 5 pounds of turkey. When thawing in cold water, allow 30 minutes per pound and change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed.

When thawing in the microwave, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Plan to cook the turkey immediately after thawing because some areas of the turkey may become warm and begin to cook during microwave thawing.

– After touching raw meat, wash your hands for 20 seconds in hot, soapy water. Also, be sure to thoroughly clean utensils, plates and work surfaces.

– Keep raw foods separate from cooked or ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross-contamination. Raw meat and poultry products may contain harmful bacteria, so it is important that the juices from raw meat and poultry products do not come into contact with food that will be consumed without cooking. Also, never place cooked food on an unwashed plate that previously held raw meat or poultry.

– To keep foodborne bacteria from growing, refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared food and leftovers within two hours of cooking. Cut the turkey into small pieces and refrigerate stuffing and turkey separately in shallow containers. Use leftover turkey and stuffing within three to four days and gravy within one to two days or freeze these foods. Reheat them thoroughly to a temperature of 165 degrees or until hot and steaming.

Consumers with food safety questions may call the toll-free U. S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline at (888) 674-6854 from l0 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday. The hotline is available in English and Spanish. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.

For related nutrition topics, click on the Food and Health link on the LSU AgCenter home page at For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.


On the Internet: LSU AgCenter:
Contact: Beth Reames, at (225) 578-3929 or
Editor: Mark Claesgens, at (225) 578-2939 or

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